Great Expectations: The DNA of an Excellent Criminal Justice Program

Some time ago I was asked if I could turn the clock back and create my own criminal justice program, what it would look like. The only stipulation is the program would help me get ready for a career in criminal justice for whatever specialization I wanted. When I was asked about the ideal criminal justice program, I could only smile because I knew I was already teaching in it.

Immediately, I thought of three things that are necessary.

First, I would want a program that bears strong relevance to the criminal justice industry. The program must have excellent curriculum, not just above average or even okay curriculum, but it has to be one of the best and zeroes in on cutting edge ideas within the industry. The textbooks used would have to be constantly reviewed, updated and have a number of publishers who provide materials for consideration when either updating a class or crafting a new one. Further, a review by a board of advisors who are practitioners in the field is most critical to make suggestions and transmit ideas about trends in the industry. More importantly, the relevance would need to be guided by those who have extensive education, training and experience in the field, and these people would continue to grow as professionals themselves. In essence, the core structure of the curriculum has to provide relevancy in all aspects of the specific criminal justice career area including its development and ultimate transmission to students in the classroom setting, on campus or online. Relevancy is the most important aspect of a criminal justice program.

Second, support is important. Challenging programs will require assistance from a variety of sources; from admissions to student financial services to scheduling, academics, career services and finally alumni relations. Further, the operations of the support network needs to be seamless with all the supporting entities talking to one another. Some students might get discouraged by a variety of issues, but the support chain should work with those students to elevate any problems.   We know life happens to everyone. Sometimes students need to make hard decisions about life issues that have nothing to do with their program, but affect their academic progress. It is times like these the support function of mentor and peer should take on the role of being an active listener and help students continue to see the value of their education and get over the hurdles of life. As I once said to a student, “We need to be introspective about the curve balls that life throws at us. Remember, there is light at the end of the tunnel and with every storm comes the calm afterward.” Support has many faces and is extremely critical for success.

Finally, in any industry there has to be communication between and among colleagues in the field. When this happens, new ideas are brought forth, programs are established and it’s easier to collaborate with others. Further, the contacts made within the industry have the ancillary benefit of knowing what positions or employment offerings exist. This also affords those entering the field the opportunity to shine their light through internships, job shadowing, criminal justice club affiliations and visitations/external learning experiences through the normal course of academic study. Professionals inherently know the advantage of networking with others in the industry. The establishment of social media affiliated with the specific industry gives professionals a tremendous advantage. An excellent criminal justice program uses the concept of networking for its students, so they can experience a taste of their career firsthand.

Relevance, support and networking are crucial in the development of an excellent criminal justice program. Relevant curriculum demands constant attention to compete at a high level. Support throughout the entire college aids students in being the best product for the highly competitive nature of jobs in the criminal justice industry. Support equals success in achieving academic excellence. Networking provides opportunities not only within the academic arena, but as the student reaches further out in the industry and continues through one’s lifetime. The DNA of an excellent criminal justice program has all these important elements. It is the beginning of a recipe for success with the only ingredient needed to be the highly motivated student who seeks to be a true professional.

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Ron Harper is the IL/WI Criminal Justice Program Coordinator at Rasmussen College in Rockford, Illinois. He has worked in the law enforcement field for over 35 years, and holds an MS in Public Administration from DePaul University with a focus on Law Enforcement Management. He is a graduate of Northwestern University’s School of Police Staff and Command.

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